How to Repair a Loose Tailpipe
Unfortunately, a loose tailpipe can be just moments – or one good bump in the road – away from taking the entire muffler away with it. After all, once the tailpipe comes free from its anchor, there is almost nothing to support it. The pipe can easily catch on a stone sticking up from a dirt road or strike the edge of a pothole and tear away from the underside of the vehicle. In such a situation, you’re lucky if you’re left with the muffler dangling since the alternative is to lose that assembly as well.
Quick action, however, can prevent you from a repair that can easily run at least $200. But you do have to act fast and with it, you need to both keep from panicking as well as to think clearly. You can’t apply just anything to hold the pipe in place; you need something strong enough to hold up to bumpy road surfaces as well as something resistant to the heat produced by the exhaust system. Even strong string, for example, may fray almost immediately, its fibers neutralized by the heat.
The first thing you should do is pull off the road as completely as you can. Your best choice is a spot where you can get thoroughly off the road but still keep the vehicle on even ground. You also need room to go around the vehicle to see exactly what is wrong. A loose tailpipe should be pretty obvious. If you need to verify that this is the problem, find something you can use to protect your hands as you touch the pipe which is apt to be hot. In fact, if the pipe has been dragging against pavement for even a few minutes, hot won’t quite describe it. You may not be able to work on the problem at all until the pipe cools, because you will need a firm purchase on it as you work.
If the tailpipe is missing completely, you’ve likely already lost it along the road. In this case, you should determine if there is anything you can do to temporarily secure your muffler which often pulls down from its mount when the tailpipe comes loose. If this is your situation, understand that you likely face a complete muffler and tail pipe replacement. Relatively few garages can or will replace only a missing tailpipe. What you need to do is to secure what’s left of the system until you can get to a mechanic or get somewhere so you can call one. Driving a vehicle very far or very long after the exhaust system is effectively gone isn’t wise. You’ll see the temperature gauge rise sharply and the noise can be almost deafening. Not only do you risk a ticket for operating an unsafe vehicle, but you’re going to put your engine under increased stress. Plan accordingly.
After you’ve assessed the situation and while you wait for what remains of your exhaust hardware to cool a bit, see what you can find inside your vehicle that can be used to secure the loose components. Most forms of tape will not hold up to the heat or the vibration, and you’ve already read why even strong string isn’t a good choice. If you happen to have a coat hanger in the trunk, you may be able to fashion something of a sling for the loose pipe and/or muffler which you may be able to hook onto the undercarriage of the vehicle. If you don’t have a hanger, see if you can locate some fairly strong but flexible wire. Living in Vermont with our horrendous roads, I’ve learned to keep a small roll of thin, flexible wire in the glove compartment that can be pressed into service at times like this. If you don’t even have something like this, consider whether you are close enough to hoof it to a store that sells something you can use for this purpose. If you absolutely must, you can drive to a shop, but you don’t want to drive the vehicle anymore than you must until you can secure the remaining exhaust system.
Once you have wire or another alternative and the tailpipe and/or muffler has cooled enough that you can bear to touch it, your next job is to determine where on the undercarriage you can tie the pipe to secure it. Whatever part you use, be aware that it shouldn’t be movable, should not be rusty since the vibration from the loose pipe may pull a rust-saturated area away with it, and allows you to wrap the wire or other material around it. Once you find the right location, begin to wrap the wire or other material around the pipe and then around the undercarriage. You don’t need to use a whole roll of wire to do this, but you also want to wrap the wire around more than just once or twice. You don’t want the tie-up to be either too loose or too tight, just sufficient to hold the pipe in place without any more vibration than you can help. Test the tautness by wiggling the pipe a bit to see how well it holds. If the pipe moves too easily, apply more wire around the pipe and undercarriage until the setup is more secure.
Next, you want to test the road worthiness of your temporary fix. If you’re in a traffic area, wait until there is a break in the traffic volume. You want to be prepared to pull off the road again rapidly if your fix breaks. But in any event, you will want to pull over after a short distance to inspect the rigged pipe to see how well it’s standing up to the ride.
If all seems fine, drive the vehicle either immediately home or to a garage. Do not decide to take a 300 mile road trip at this point because your temporary fix is just that: a short-term solution that probably won’t hold up to long distance or long-term travel.
Yet, dependent on whether the muffler and pipe is still intact, you may be able to avoid going the whole exhaust system replacement route. For example, if you can drive the vehicle directly to an auto parts store, you may be able to borrow a tape measure so you can determine the diameter of the pipe. With that information, you can buy a clamp you can install to the pipe which will secure it to the vehicle as a more permanent solution. Over the summer, for example, we ran into this situation with our Suzuki Sidekick and, once we installed a clamp that cost less than $3, the vehicle has logged another 4,000 miles along mountainous dirt roads and our dog playing in the back.
For the clamp solution to work, you need to be able to mount the clamp not just to the pipe but to an appropriate place on the undercarriage. This could require a strong drill unless you can use the original mounting from which the tailpipe came loose. If you can’t use the original mount with the newly purchased clamp, find a spot where you can mount the clamp to the pipe and install the clamp. You should do this as soon as possible after you’ve done the temporary fix.
Again, you’ll want to test the car by driving it a short distance after you install the clamp to be sure it’s doing the job. If it does, you’ve bought yourself some time before you need to invest in a full exhaust system replacement, time you can use to put some money aside for the job when you do schedule it.